Year-Long Office Remodeling Offers IT Department Some Important Lessons

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A year-long branch remodel not only taught one credit union technology department some lessons about relocating hardware and cabling, but raised some bigger issues about keeping IT "in the communication loop."

San Francisco Police CU's small IT staff was stretched nearly to the point of being "overwhelmed during the CU's remodeling that included a data cable "little nightmare," as well as equipment for which there's now "no immediate use," according to Rose Green, CIO at SFPCU. Green said she learned that the success of a branch remodel-or any big CU project, for that matter-hinges in part on a well-informed Information Services and Technology (IS&T) department.

"Communications is a big piece," Green explained. "Anytime the organization or the marketing or lending departments are entertaining changes to an existing process that ties in with a third-party vendor, it's important to include IS&T in the initial discussions. The organization needs to consider the back-end side in terms of equipment, operating systems, and compatibility."

For example, the $409-million CU planned to build an Internet caf? in its lobby and installed plasma screens. "I wish IS&T could have been part of the planning," Green said. "The plasma screens required a certain type of cabling, which we found out after the fact. We also should have preplanned the networking setup."

SFPCU, with 19,000 members, found that occupying the building it was remodeling was quite the challenge. "We had to close off half of the credit union," Green said. "People were doubled up in offices, with up to four people in one office in some instances.

"In the back offices we had to take available space and convert it into workstations. IS&T involvement came when we had to relocate computer equipment, printers, data cables, and set up some routers and switchers."

Despite the frustrations, Green said the IT staff of four "did a heck of a good job in meeting the set timeframe. Given the size of our staff, and the fact that we had to be extremely flexible and juggle some responsibilities, the staff maintained a positive outlook overall."

Indeed, the remodel kept the IT staff on its toes. Not only did the staff of four handle day-to-day networking, security, ISP, host, phone system, PC, and end-user responsibilities, but it busied itself with work related to the remodel, such as moving equipment, resetting printer directions, installing temporary IP and cordless telephony, and labeling and connecting data cables, for example. "It was hard for me to keep that balance for them so that they weren't overwhelmed," she said.

Asked what the CU could have done to make the transition easier, Rose answered, "I don't know if there is a solution. It's just hard."

However, she added that any CU with a small IT staff should ensure that the IT department has no other projects on its plate. "We had to drop everything we were doing. For example, we wanted to move forward with intrusion detection and an intranet but had to put them off because of the remodel."

Projects should also incorporate fun activities to "keep up staff spirits," Green added.

San Francisco Police CU outsourced some of remodel to try to relieve in-house duties-and learned a lesson in vendor selection in the process.

For example, "we allowed the remodeling contractor to select the subcontractor to provide and coordinate data cables," Green said. "We ended up with things done at the last minute, and the data cables weren't labeled. We then had to replace existing data cables, and set up a new patch panel. "We should have utilized our own data cables," Green concluded. "If a credit union is entertaining a remodeling or any project of this magnitude, then it should use a vendor with which it has established a relationship. The credit union should know the quality of the vendor's work."

Additionally, the CU found itself at the end of the remodel with excess equipment. "Within the interim readjustment of people and equipment, we needed extra hubs to connect up to seven workstations. But now we're left with extra hubs, and no immediate use for them."

As SFPCU reshuffled the last of its people last month, Green said the CU breathed a sigh of relief. "People are happy to be back to their respective areas," she said.

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